About that MA Airbnb bill: Not so fast

Just yesterday we were looking at the new short-term rental regulations passed by the Massachusetts state legislature and the effect it would have on Airbnb hosts in the state. Under the new plan (among other things) there would be a public “registry” published listing all hosts, including their names, addresses and contact information. This would allow easy targeting of such individuals by the unhinged, a fact which lawmakers carefully ignored in their comments.

The whole thing seemed like a done deal, but now there’s a potentially lethal wrench being thrown in the process. Rather than signing the bill as expected, Governor Charlie Baker has requested yet another change to it before approval. And given the legislature’s short calendar, they may not be able to push it through. (Boston Globe)

Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday proposed some minor changes to the bill regulating Airbnb and other short-term rentals that lawmakers passed this week. But those small changes could throw a big wrench into complex legislation that was years in the making.

Baker proposed exempting homeowners who rent their properties 14 nights per year or less from the new taxes and insurance requirements. It’s an effort, he said, to protect homeowners who only occasionally rent out their properties from “burdensome government bureaucracy” and would affect just 1 percent of short-term rentals in the state.

But Baker acted a day after the Legislature ended its formal session, meaning lawmakers would either have to vote, unanimously, on the governor’s proposal as-is or call a special session to rewrite the bill. And that could get complicated.

Actually, the entire bill is a prime example of the “burdensome government bureaucracy” that Baker mentions, so it’s odd that he would single out that one exception. Of course, if you are a homeowner who is only renting out a room in your house less than two weeks out of the year you’re probably not a prime Airbnb target anyway. What should be in question here is why anyone who is obviously not operating a hotel and owns property that’s zoned as residential should have to carry a crippling, expensive liability insurance policy to begin with.

Baker’s change wouldn’t do much to help actual Airbnb hosts, but he may have just complicated the regulatory maneuver beyond rescue. While the measure garnered a veto-proof majority in both chambers it wasn’t unanimous. And with the legislature out of session for the year, that means they could only approve the change unanimously. Failing that (and it would almost certainly fail) they would need to call a special session to rework the bill.

Is this Baker’s subtle way of trying to tank the bill or at least significantly delay it? He is a Republican after all, though he’d barely be recognized as one outside of New England. Just vetoing it would be a pointless fight and expenditure of political capital which he’d doubtless lose anyway. This way he looks “reasonable” about agreeing with the Democratic majority but gets to insert something to ostensibly help private homeowners and possibly ditch the measure until next year.

Either way, it seems as if the gig economy will suffer yet another blow in Massachusetts sooner or later unless the courts can step in and stop these attacks. And I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that outcome either.